Friday, July 8, 2011

My Thoughts on CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries

Welcome to my commentary about CJ Mahaney and the current crisis in Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Please note that this post, originally written on July 8, has been substantially revised, reorganized, and updated as of July 16.  I have also deleted many comments (mostly my own!) because I either incorporated the information into the main blog post or I felt that they detracted from the flow of the conversation. If you have comments about this or any other post, I would be delighted to hear from you, even if I can't always respond right away.

As a followup, on July 16, I also wrote My Recommendations for CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. This new post also includes my responses to concerns brought up by readers of the original post that you will read below.  

Please note: I am adding in a few comments at the bottom of this post as of December 3, 2011 and again on October 17, 2012, and again on February 15, 2015.

Dear friends,

On July 6, I was quite surprised to receive the news that C.J. Mahaney, the president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, had stepped down temporarily for a season of evaluation and repentance in the midst of grave allegations about his leadership.   One paragraph from Mr. Mahaney reads, “Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.”

Why should this matter to you, and why does it matter to me?  It should matter to you because Mr. Mahaney is a well known author and conference speaker who is lauded as a leader among Reformed evangelicals like John Piper, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll and others.  His young protégé Josh Harris is also a popular author and speaker. As such, Mr. Mahaney has a lot of influence, and how he behaves reflects on the church at large.  It matters to me because for 8 years, I was a faithful member of SGM.  Most of my family and I left the local SGM church last year, but we still have an adult daughter and many dear friends who are members there. (Note: As of fall 2014, the local church we attended is no longer a part of SGM. I am glad.)

I would like to share with you some of the back story, starting with how it became more of a priority for me.   A little over three years ago, while corresponding with a Mormon friend about our respective faiths, I started researching not only the Latter Day Saints church, but the dynamics and doctrines of other contemporary religious movements. I focused particularly on ones with authoritarian leadership styles and/or unusual beginnings.   (Later this study would also expand to the patriarchal segment of the Christian home schooling movement, where there is much overlap. I have written a series on Gender & Authority.)  By what I would call divine coincidence, I stumbled on a pair of blogs written by ex-members of SGM, and  In the posts and comments, they shared raw tales of abuse of authority, church dysfunction, and pastoral mishandling of serious situations such as child molestation, domestic abuse, substance abuse, mental illness and suicide. Other recurrent themes are the intense sin-focus, the inward and outward legalism, the lack of grace, and the quenching of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit – all of which I was already noticing more and more as the months and years rolled by. 

What about the authoritarian leadership model? Another observation was that SGM (then known as People of Destiny International or PDI) had its earliest roots in the shepherding movement, which advocated invasive scrutiny of members’ lives by pastors and home group (aka care group) leaders, while at the same time not holding these leaders themselves accountable to their own congregations. The “shepherding movement” was founded by the Ft. Lauderdale Five: Derek Prince, Don Basham, Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, and Ern Baxter. Most of these five men realized the danger of what they started, and later publicly disavowed the model and methods as being dangerous.  A former PDI pastor named Chris wrote to me questioning details of PDI/SGM’s early associations and influences with these men and their followers, and suggesting that PDI invented their own “creative brand of control” that resulted in fostering “the amazing blogs that have flourished” (referring to Refuge and Survivors).  On the other hand, I have been told by an ex-member that the shepherding movement’s New Wine magazine was often read by PDI pastors.  Either way, the general consensus among ex-members is that the organization did indeed adopt an unhealthy level of control at all levels.  Chris (the pastor) did join others in pointing to the influence of Bill Gothard, whose conferences and materials about family life (Institute of Basic Life Principles) and home education (Advanced Training Institute) were popular among PDI leaders.  (As a side note, I have been reading countless tragic stories by people whose lives and families have been shattered by IBLP’s and ATI’s legalistic requirements and rigid emphasis on authority. There is an entire web site devoted to former members at  Whatever the formative influences were, I believe that SGM never completely outgrew that paradigm, though it has softened somewhat over the years. Typically, in this kind of environment, there is a pervading atmosphere of fear among both pastors and members. 
  • fear of failure if someone in leadership isn't telling you what to do
  • fear of taking initiative on new projects because that will be seen as pridefully “putting yourself forward”
  • fear of being seen as unsubmissive (especially the wives and young adults)
  • fear of being dismissed as proud and bitter if you try to bring up something bothering you
  • fear of being publicly shamed, asked to leave the church, or shunned by the members
  •         fear that you will lose your children to “the world” if you choose not to do it their way, which in SGM circles usually  means home schooling and courtship
  • fear of other evangelical Christians not in or approved by your group (as evidenced by which quotes are mentioned from the pulpit and which books are sold in the church bookstore)
  •  fear of trained mental health professionals, Christian or secular
  • fear of the culture around us

Did all of this drama affect our own congregation in Orlando?  Yes, most certainly. I am not going to detail specific incidents that were personally troubling to me. That would be unnecessary and perhaps hurtful to those who were involved. However, I will say that I was noticing enough “red flags” to really bother me, primarily in home groups, women’s events, congregational meetings, and church discipline situations. In addition, while I like to think that I am normally a cheerful and easy going person, I experienced periodic depression and anxiety. While there certainly may be other factors (like having 10 children in 18 years) I attribute the increase in symptoms to an atmosphere of neo-Puritan “worm mentality” and fear. (See my poem It Became to Me a Dark Thing".) Increasingly distressed and trying to stay objective, I was putting up with all of it the best I could for the sake of my relationships there and out of a sense of loyalty to the church.  However, there were a few trigger incidents which I could not let slide by without speaking about my concerns to the pastors, especially regarding the nature of grace in the Christian life.  They listened carefully and politely, and I respect them for that.  They also preached a wonderful series on the grace of God, which was a huge blessing to me. I started to hope that there might be some meaningful change in the atmosphere of the church. Then in early 2010, our worship pastor resigned, citing irreconcilable differences with the other pastors over a period of years. All of the sudden, people in the pews who had been blissfully ignorant of any on-going problems got a really rude awakening. They started asking questions and demanding answers. Congregational meetings got quite heated. Other disturbing things happened as well. For many of us, it was just too much to stay. From what I’ve been told, about 300 people, maybe more, have left the church since then. (This kind of mass exodus has happened in other SGM churches as well.) A sizable percentage of those who left had been members for over 20 years.  Many of them had been pillars of the church, serving as leaders in the home groups and other vital ministries.  We were among those who transitioned into other congregations. Our family eventually settled in a small Presbyterian (PCA) church where the pastors and elders are more accountable to the congregation. Please know that I do not bear any animosity toward the pastors or the people in our former local church. The pastors have always been very kind to me personally, and I wrote a blog post nearly two years ago sharing what I appreciated about each of them. You can find it here: Appreciating the Pastors at Metro Life Church. On July 22, I wrote Ten Things I Appreciate About Metro Life Church. My primary protest is against the SGM leadership, polity, and overbearing emphasis on pastoral authority and the sin nature that is propagated from the top of the organization to the bottom. I think it is unfortunate that local pastors have gotten stuck in that mess. I hope that is clear from what I write.

And somehow that brings us to the July 6 announcement from Mr. Mahaney. Many people have started congratulating him for being so very humble and honorable to come forward. I seriously don’t believe that such praise is warranted in this sobering time. Unfortunately, I think his announcement is too little, too late. He speaks as if he intends to take a short sabbatical season away from his duties so that his offenses against a group of select disaffected former pastors can be evaluated and corrected by a team of men. Then he intends to return and lead SGM into a future of fruitful ministry.  Hello?!?

In addition to the aforementioned protest blogs, hundreds of pages of careful documentation by former SGM Brent Detwiler were anonymously uploaded to the web. I have only read excerpts and summaries, but from what I understand, the evidence is quite incriminating about severe dysfunction within the organization. Coupled with the decades of serious stories about spiritual abuse and grossly mismanaged family crises that have already been reported by ordinary former members from every single SGM congregation, we’re taking deep trouble throughout the entire organization. This is a top down systemic infection, not an isolated bump here and there. If even a fraction of what has been reported is true, I personally think Mr. Mahaney’s poor job performance has disqualified him from ever returning to a prominent position in ministry. I don’t think that his peers on the SGM board of directors are qualified to restore him to it, since by many accounts they too have been complicit in this sorry situation for a long time. 

The odd thing is, that just a week after announcing that he would step down for a season until his sins could be evaluated by an independent third party, the SGM board has now decided that he is fit for ministry and leadership. They are still going through with the outside evaluation, so this latest announcement seems to be quite a bit premature and presumptive. Ostensibly they are basing this on the grounds that Mr. Detwiler failed to follow their prescribed means of redress to their satisfaction, and therefore they are discounting the validity all of the charges presented in his exhaustive documents. I think these are two separate issues. As a mother, I do not say that one of my children is innocent of all manner of household transgressions just because his or her sibling has tattled with an obnoxious attitude. The legitimacy of the grievances must be dealt with separately from the legitimacy of the means by which they are brought. 

I know it seems harsh for me to say all of this about disqualifying CJ Mahaney and the board of directors. This is obviously my own fallible opinion from the peanut gallery. I don’t personally know Mr. Mahaney, though I have heard him preach on numerous occasions. Nor do I have an accurate window into his heart in the past, present or future. But here is my reasoning: to extend grace and forgiveness is one thing, but restoring real trust is quite another. The recent admission of problems by Mr. Mahaney and the SGM board of directors is also seen by many as preemptive posturing of humility in the face of increasing public exposure and impending humiliation, rather than as evidence of genuine repentance and responsibility. I think SGM’s credibility has pretty well been shot. I am not ready to glibly forgive-and-forget-and-restore-the-man-to-power when there are so many wounded by SGM who have been almost completely ignored in the past few decades. I am astounded that public figures like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler are so quick to endorse Mr. Mahaney’s character and move on. Maybe this is sincere loyalty and admiration from Mr. Mohler, but detractors have been quick to point out that donations (in excess of $100,000?) to the seminary by Mahaney and SGM had something to do with that. Oh my.  

All that aside, though, think about the logistics of the corporate world for a moment. If you had a man or woman applying to be the CEO in your business or non-profit, and candidate’s previous personnel file revealed the kind of mismanagement that Mr. Mahaney has been charged with, would you hire or promote this person? Not likely! And if they were already “on board” you would probably fire them very quickly and very permanently.  But, you might object, Mr. Mahaney founded this organization!  It’s his ministry! Oh no, it’s not! The church belongs to our Sovereign God.  Leaders must be accountable, first to the Lord and then to the people. The church is the whole body of Christ: the people, not just the pastors. If a pastor is not serving his people with integrity and skill, and is instead causing grave harm, he does not belong on the job no matter how penitent he is. That is especially true of the man at the top, who sets the pace and the protocol for everyone else. If Mr. Mahaney was the president of another church denomination such as the Baptists or Presbyterians, where leaders are accountable to and elected by members, would he be reelected with his reputation? I don’t think so. How does the concept of grace and forgiveness automatically equate with his qualification to lead in the future? It’s not about him. It’s about the effectiveness and health of the church. Even if he totally changed his ways, there would be that element of distrust and disrepute hanging on to him – and to the church he continued as its top leader.

People need to hear the truth in plain words, even if it is excruciatingly painful.  Do over 50,000 hits in less than 12 hours on July 9 at the web site mean anything? Charges of “gossip and slander” against those who speak out aren’t going to cut it anymore. See here for a very insightful article by Bob Bixby called What Bitterness REALLY Is. Let’s not play the “bitterness trump card” and blame the victims, like Mahaney’s T4G conference colleague Ligon Duncan does when he calls on his ministry constituents to ignore the assaults of wounded people on attack websites and blogs, and that you discount the opinings of those who have no real knowledge of these matters or relation to SGM or authority to comment upon them…” Yes, sir, that’s quite the way to dismiss the legitimate concerns those who have been hurt by their very real firsthand knowledge of life within SGM! NOT! The anguished appeals for reform have already been exhausted over and over again for decades. The leaders of SGM – not just CJ Mahaney – have chosen to be above any real accountability for too long. Now they have to pay the piper and face the music. 

Do I want to bring others down?  No, I want to lift others up, to see the downtrodden restored to their dignity.  Will CJ Mahaney "go down" in the process?  I don't know. I do hope that the man who wrote the book Humility: True Greatness will, through true humility, find that true greatness. That is the greatness of really serving (in deeds, not just platitudes) and restoring the thousands of "the least of these" who have been so devastated as a result of his actions over recent decades. I do think Jesus would be most honored and glorified if he did that. Then "the gospel" that SGM has proclaimed truly would be the Good News of Jesus that it was intended to be. So whatever their initial motives were, I hope and pray that Mr. Mahaney and his colleagues will indeed use this opportunity for true repentance, evidenced by actual restitution and reconciliation with members and ex-members at all levels, not just pastors. He has often preached about the local church being “the happiest place on earth” – but many who came will never darken the door of a church again because SGM broke their sacred trust. Others have fortunately found refuge in grace-filled churches that respect individual people in the pews, not just the leaders. 

What is going on with Josh Harris, senior pastor of SGM’s 3000 member flagship congregation, Covenant Life Church? My first thought about Mr. Harris was amazement that he allowed dissenting comments on his blog announcement of Mr. Mahaney’s temporary resignation. I totally respect that! Mr. Harris is garnering the appreciation of many observers by his forthright admissions about the severity of the problems, his acknowledgement of the truths contained in the blogs and the uploaded documents, and his stated determination to see this situation through to resolution. This includes, I am told, a new CLC church constitution approved by the members of the congregation. You can listen to his Sunday morning sermon addressing the situation at CLC here: The Father’s DisciplineHowever, Mr. Harris’s approach is not necessarily shared by the SGM board members. Due to disagreements with how to proceed through this time of correction Josh Harris has resigned from the SGM board of directors, though he will continue to attend the meetings.  The board issued a statement of Where We Differ and Where We Agree. This young man is certainly in my prayers!  He has made a good start, and I hope he works to keep this process moving in the direction of integrity and responsibility. 

I also need to humble myself and share the SGM blame in my own small ways. For years I quieted my own conscience, my own God-given sense of right and wrong.  For years I was so proud (let’s make that arrogant!) that I belonged to THE church that featured what I thought were right doctrine and right living. (Ginny Jacobson, who attends our former church, addresses this tendency in her insightful blog post here: A Fallen Idol - One Man's Sin Exposed My Own.) Where else could I find that unique blend of Reformed / Baptist / Charismatic teaching, amazing worship music, and devout fellow members who took their lifestyle choices like home schooling and courtship seriously? I advertised SGM conferences, books, and CD’s in my e-magazine and on my blogs. I always alerted my friends whenever CJ Mahaney would be in town, so they could come hear him preach. For years, I told friends what a wonderful place our church was to raise children, not fully aware of how many of the young people were struggling and straying because of their experiences there. Beyond our tithe to the local church, we gave extra offerings to SGM until the last year, when I couldn’t do that in good conscience any more. We were deeply involved in all sorts of activities and ministries at church. (I do not regret this, because we have wonderful memories and dear friends from these times.) But it seemed like we were always there, taking somebody to something at the church building almost every day of the week. I was so committed that I thought I would be a member of that church until I died. And lo and behold, I did start dying, inside, little by little. And I let it happen with only a squeak or two here and there, until God mercifully poked me hard and woke me up.  

I have a few seemingly random mental images to share before I close this note. There are others in my mind, but these should suffice.

The Berlin Wall: Ronald Reagan calling on Gorbachev to tear it down and the freedom-loving people of Germany dismantling it chunk by chunk. It’s time, folks. Call for truth and freedom. Don’t settle for anything less. Pull down the barriers until the truth is known and the arrogance, fear, and control come tumbling down.

The tale of “The Emperor Who Wore No Clothes”:  His royal tailors assured him that his finery was crafted from such a special fabric that only the wise could see it. And all the people, including the emperor himself, “saw” his beautiful clothes because they wanted to be thought wise.  Then a truly wise little boy cried out, “But he doesn’t have anything on at all!” And they all realized what fools they had been. Some of you have suspected something amiss for quite some time, but feared being labeled as foolish or non-compliant if you dared to speak up. Call it like it is, dear little flock. Be bold. Speak truth to power. You don’t need to feel naked or vulnerable yourself, because Christ himself clothes you in his very own righteousness, the garments of joy and praise instead of the spirit of heaviness. 

“With liberty and justice for all”: the last phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance.  Sweet Jesus, under your victory banner, bring that liberty and justice to the least of these my brethren. Bring your healing and grace. Help us to cling to our precious identity in Christ, and never let anyone snatch it from us.  Help us to reclaim the transforming  dignity that as believers we are (as 1 Peter 2:9 so gloriously declares) “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  Help us to focus on you, the perfect life you lived, the victory you won over death through your resurrection, how you promised the Holy Spirit would indwell us so that we could be more than conquerors “through him who loved us”!

One final word to my friends who are members of Sovereign Grace Ministries, including my own former pastors. Even if you are upset at what I have said, I hope you can respect that I am trying to be true to what I believe. I love you dearly, and I miss you. I know many of you may be shocked and even offended by my words, but I write from my heart because of my concern for you. Please consider my words and pray about how this affects you. My brothers and sisters, cry out to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who truly gave his own life for you, who bids the weary to come and find rest in his gentle yoke, who leads us on the true path.  Writing this reminded me of a short story that I wrote for my Mormon friend.  You might enjoy it as well.  You can find it here: Parable of Grace.

As a followup to this post, I wrote My Recommendations for CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. The new post also includes my responses to concerns brought up by readers of this original post.  I also ask you to read Ten Things I Appreciate About Metro Life Church and add your own list in the comments.

Update on October 17, 2012: Three more recent developments:
  1. Sovereign Grace has moved its headquarters to Louisville, Kentucky, where they have also started a new church plant. Sovereign Grace Church brings history, controversy to new Louisville launch
  2. SGM is also being sued by three women.  "The plaintiffs allege a conspiracy spanning more than two decades to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members. The alleged abuse happened in Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s. The lawsuit accuses church representatives of permitting suspected pedophiles to interact with children, supplying them with free legal advice to avoid prosecution and forcing victims to meet with and “forgive” the person that had molested them."  Lawsuit claims evangelical church group concealed sex abuse allegations in Md., Va
  3. Local churches are starting to dis-affiliate from SGM.  I believe that I have heard of four so far, three of them in Florida.  Here is one link: Sovereign Grace Church of Daytona Beach Leaves Sovereign Grace Ministries

Update on December 3, 2011: After nearly five months, there does not appear to be any substantive progress at the national level.  Here are the top ten  developments, with links to articles and blog posts from various sources, including,,, and 
  1. The pastors of Covenant Life Church (led by Josh Harris) are seriously considering withdrawing from the SGM organization, which has been headquartered in the church building.  (See the "Family Update" letter to CLC members.)  
  2. Mr. Mahaney and much of his extended family (which includes other pastors) left Covenant Life Church and attended a non-SGM church (Capitol Hill Baptist) for a while before moving on to Solid Rock, a more sympathetic SGM congregation in Maryland.  
  3. Mr. Mahaney has retracted his confession (see transcript from November pastors' conference, with added commentary by Kris of SGMSurvivors) and continues to speak publicly in various venues, including a message at the conference.  
  4. Also at this pastors' conference, attendees were instructed to go back to their congregations and root out “divisive” members.  
  5. Brent Detwiler, the insider who released hundreds of pages of incrimination documents, has been publicly shamed and shunned by his former congregation. Members have been told to avoid talking to him, as well as encouraged to defriend him on Facebook. 
  6. Jared Mellinger, a pastor in one of the Pennsylvania churches, warned his church that it was more destructive to read anti-SGM blogs than to go to a porn site.  (That’s a real head scratcher!)
  7. Larry Tomczak, who co-founded PDI (now SGM) has issued his own statement about his departure from the organization in 1997, acknowledging the blackmail and cover up. 
  8. Todd Twining (my friend and former MLC worship pastor) wrote about his own departure from SGM.
  9. Ambassadors of Reconciliation has been doing in person and phone interviews with people who have been adversely affected by SGM and will eventually present its conclusions and recommendations.
  10. The SGM board is conducting its own review by setting up three panels of current pastors do investigate the issues.

I personally have a hard time believing that the leaders of SGM are planning to change course in any significant redemptive way.  Right now, they seem to me to be in full damage control and spin mode.  I would concur with Mr. Tomczak that they all need to step down.  Their integrity and credibility are in serious question. I am more confident than ever that I made the right choice to leave SGM last year.

February 2015:

I can't even begin to update you on all that has happened within SGM in the last few years since I wrote on this, other than to say that there were even more serious allegations of sexual abuse against children. You can read more here Sovereign Grace and Saving Face and Abuse Thrives in a Culture of Shame and Silence.

The key thing for me, which I mentioned as an update in the article, too, is that the local church of which I was a member has since disassociated itself from Sovereign Grace Ministries, as have many other congregations. Though I still attend another church, I am currently active in the homeless outreach ministry at this former SGM church in the Orlando area and maintain many dear friendships there. 

With love,
Virginia Knowles


  1. Thank you for this thoughtful and honest post! (I still miss those folks that we left behind in our SGM church (Titusville), and continue to pray for them and the leadership... maybe we knew each other? We visited Orlando many times...)

  2. Nice post.

    With all that Mahaney knows he has done I can't believe that Mahaney in his letter would even suggest that he might be coming back as the leader of the group.

    Hopefully this will be a wake up call for SGM to make the needed changes they need to make.

  3. Virginia, thank you for a wonderful post. I felt like you had a microphone in our living room over the past few days as we read the documents saved by Brent and leaked onto the internet (Thank God for Brent record keeping and whoever the brave leaker was) My fear is that this Sunday CJ will be promoted to the position as the most Humble Man on the face of the earth when anyone with any sense can see the only reason he came forward was because these documents show how vindictive, controlling and unteachable he is - not qualities found in a humble man. No one at Metro will dare read the documents because "it would be wrong to think ill of CJ", in the same way East Germans would never read "propaganda from the West" Keep writing and may God bless you where you are planted. It is wonderful to be in a church where you don't have to (to quote you) "fear of taking initiative on new projects because that will be seen as pridefully “putting yourself forward”
    We are encouraged to use the gifts that God has given us. The pastor actually "equips the saints for works of service." Paul

  4. Amazing article, Virginia! You expressed my own sentiments so concisely and clearly. I, too, was part of an SGM church for a quarter century and have the same concerns expressed here.

    50,000 hits on the websites mentioned is not bitter gossip. It is public outcry.

  5. Before everyone starts to attack Virginia for her position on CJ, they may want to read the 600 pages of emails and notes from CJ, Brent, Dave Harvey, Josh etc that paint a very disturbing picture of a man who does not like to be questioned, including using blackmail to quiet someone that challenged him.

  6. Virginia, we will keep you in prayer for being so bold as to state your beliefs on your blog. This will be welcomed with "Take me off your blog" and cold stares and loss of Face Book friends "defriending" you. People hate when you question those that they don't dare ever question. (God is the ONLY one we should never doubt)

  7. I really hope people, especially current SGM members take a Berean approach to what is being presented vs. a bury your head in the sand mentality. Sadly I think SGM and others they are aligned with are trying to get people to bury their heads in the sand about this. What is ironic is that the longer people choose to remain ignorant of what really happened, and the longer SGM just glosses over the problems then the greater the solution will have to be such as closing down SGM.

    SGM Leaders have as used their teaching on what is gossip and slander to suppress questioning and knowledge about what happened. SGM Members don't let yourself get dupes this time.

  8. Virginia, thank you for this concise, truthful and grace-ful post. Our hearts break for those we know still in SGM. May God tear down the walls and hold up the hands of the weak for His glory. Appreciate you, sister. - P.D.

  9. I would encourage others to listen to Harris's message. Listening to that message makes me think there still might be hope for SGM or maybe at least CLC.

    Harris indicated that Mahaney still hasn't acknowledged all of his sin. This lack of acknowledgement was no surprise having read Mahaney's announcement of his "sabattical."

    Harris didn't try and minimize the problems and acknowledged there was sin and that the group was under discipline from the Lord.

    Beside that it was quite encouraging the message. If SGM follows through on what Harris said then there may be hope.

    I will say that I didn't like how Harris compared bloggers and especially Detwiler to the Philistines or Assyrians that God used to punish Israel. Most of the bloggers are Harris's brothers and sisters in Christ that saw the need for change in SGM before SGM Leaders had the guts (Harris's word) to do what was needed.

  10. Let me say Publicly some of what I shared privately... I read your blog and felt shock. I really didn't know... Andy and I are newer to metro (not sgm though) and we just had no clue... I've read the documents... And we are praying and processing... Thanks for your honesty... I dont have a full conclusion on anything but God has used you to open my eyes to closely examine scripture and the church.

    I blogged on the sin this has drawn out in my own heart- idolatry and pride...

  11. I haven't read every single comment or word written in this blog post and added at the bottom, but I wanted to leave a quick comment as someone who is actually a member of Covenant Life Church, and has been sitting through meetings about all of the stuff my church is going through.

    quick note: I am aware of the blogs out there (sgmsuvivors and such) but I would say that Please don't read them as the absolute truth or that they have things right. each to his/her own opinion.

    This past Sunday evening, Josh Harris, lead VERY helpful 2 1/2 hour meeting that is the start of a whole bunch more meetings like it. With about 500 people there, and a whole list of questions the congregation had asked about CJ and all of this, we all then spent 2 1/2 hours going through those questions, asking new ones, and hearing the history behind the letters Brent compiled. CLC is becoming aware of the holes in their leadership and also the holes in SGM. I was very very grateful and have much respect for Josh and the pastors at CLC about how they are handling this confused mess. They know they've messed up, they are freely admitting that, and they know that they need to grow. We are all sinners, and we all make mistakes. I really believe that GOd is using this "upset" to bring to light things that need to change. it is for good. as of right now, it isn't clear if CJ will come back to leadership or not. this "leave of absence" is not of a determined length.

    I would like to encourage everyone reading this blog and commenting and writing this blog to be careful of judging someone and something you don't know everything about. and to be careful on how you read any documents out there. Brent Detwilers documents are just ONE side of the story. Don't judge until you have heard all sides.

    thanks for reading.

  12. Excellent comment, Anonymous at 2:08. Yes, we need to read the protest blogs with discernment. And as I said in my update and comments, I am encouraged hearing of what Josh Harris has said, and impressed that he has allowed so many dissenting comments on his own blog. If there is also an on-line audio of the Sunday evening Q & A meeting, you are welcome to post the link.

    Thank you for your grace-filled words. My heart goes out to the precious saints at Covenant Life, the epicenter of this heartbreaking quake.

  13. Anonymous

    As one who has been involved with the blogs since they started I would agree with what I am hearing about Harris and what he is doing at CLC. His message was a breath of fresh air and feel there might be hope despite these revelations that Detwiler has shared and Josh admitted were at least mostly true.

    Harris did a good job of shoring up his church from a possible implosion. If he is sincere and keeps the course I am confident that at least CLC can be saved.

    I do wish I could say that I have the same encouragement from how Kingsway and SGM Fairfax (VA) handled this.

    For the Kingsway response go the church's website and download/listen to this past sunday's message.

    For Fairfax go to their Facebook page:

    look for the video titled "special announcement"

    I will be curious to hear what your impression is. These two are quite a contrast to Josh Harris's message that included confession and alarm etc. It was like these other churches were talking about some other event that wasn't serious.

    Just so you know I have a blog that critique's Harris's "kissing dating goodbye" book and now you hear me being encouraged by what Harris said. That might just tell you something.

  14. Steve -
    Just a thought about the Kingsway and Fairfax comments this Sunday. At the time these were given, CJ's whole letter of explanation about the nature of the charges hadn't been released. Rather than go into the details and nitty-gritty, they were in a position to give an overview - what categories to use as you process the info. Personally, I thought it
    was helpful at the time.

  15. All -
    I think most people reading this are believers. Can we agree to pray for all who have been mentioned? Regardless of our own personal perspectives, let's pray that God would be glorified through this. I, for one, don't presume to know how God intends this to unfold , but I know that I can lose sight of His glory when I pray for one specific outcome. Just a thought.

  16. Thank you for this point. IMHO it is point on and conveys almost everything I have had issues with SGM. I was brought up in an SGM church in El Paso, Texas. I, too, was there a quarter of a century. I still love the church (people & pastor(s)) there dearly. I left 5 years ago. There were issues I was not comfortable with tugging at my heart strings for a few years prior to my leaving. It is very clear to me that I cannot return to SGM. I know there is no perfect church out there, but SGM is just far too imbalanced for me. Josh Harris' message I found to be very refreshing and while I am afraid to hope for real change, for fear of being let down, there is hope in my heart after reading his words and his not making light of this "situation" allegations, etc..

  17. Anonymous said...

    Just a thought about the Kingsway and Fairfax comments this Sunday. At the time these were given, CJ's whole letter of explanation about the nature of the charges hadn't been released.

    Maybe that is the case. If Josh Harris knew a lot more at the time than the others that just might explain it. That is likely since Harris is located where CJ is and SGM Headquarters.

    Now it does look like SGM Leaders (minus Josh) are trivializing what Mahaney did. This is really sad.

  18. Virginia, thank you so much for all the thought and prayer that went into this masterpiece.I had to read and re-read your points about "fear in members". The one that nailed me was "fear of taking initiative on new projects because that will be seen as pridefully “putting yourself forward”.
    I can still hear my MLC pastor saying "Let another man notice your gifting, don't toot your own horn." That has stuck with me, not only in my life at church but in my personal life where I am often unable to offer suggestions, if I am knowledgeable about something, because I am aware that it will be seen as "tooting my own horn." It is so freeing to be a part of a church that ASKS people from the start "how are you gifted, and what are you bringing to church to serve others, ultimately to the glory of God?" I am so sorry that writing what you have over the last two posts have cost you friendship from MLC. I know that since we left over 2 years ago, our phone has not rung one time, and to think that these people were supposedly closer than blood relatives for over 20 years. I agree about the SGM Refuge and Survivors sites. How can SO many people, who used to be members, all sound so similar in their perspective stories? Paul

  19. Very well written, and I agree with all you are saying, Virginia.

    Your recommendations for CJ/SGM (in the following post) are better than anything the board or CJ himself has been able to come up with! You should post that one on DH's blog.


  20. Virgina, I enjoyed reading your comments. I am a current and newer memeber at Covenant Life Church. I don't have any long relationship with the church or with CJ, no alliances or warm fuzzy memories. I am thankful for your writing and that on that have been very enlightening.
    I cringe at the thought of my offering money going to any kind of mediation. I'd rather send that money to some of my favorite missionaries, laboring and proving themselves to be above reproach. Thanks for your writing.

  21. Virginia, Almost lost my lunch when I saw Jared Mellinger tell his church that reading anti-SGM material was worse than reading porn. THat is exactly what the Jehovah Witness cult does to their followers to keep them "faithful.' So sad to see that Aron Osbourne - Metro Life's new senior pastor is on the board that just scolded Josh Harris and the other pastors at CLC, one of the few SGM churches left with any backbone. Love reading your "divisive" writings. Continue to fear God and not man, and pray that God will remove the blinders from the followers of those that do not want to appear to be "divisive' by being Bereans.

  22. Wow. I know I am weighing into this blog late in the game, but I have been following this story of SGM for a long time on the refuge sites, watchburg & brents site. I have no ties to SGM except that the teachings of Piper and many other neo-Calvanists are very popular in most mainstream churches today.
    I often come across younger fans of these preachers who idolize these men and hang onto their every teaching. The books and conventions alone influence thousands of pastors who model after these men.

    The financial ways these leaders are tied together amazes me. That John Piper went to preach at CJ Mahaney's church right after the lawsuit and the well documented problems in SGM's abusive leadership is frightening to me. He is tied into some of the biggest movements now in evangelical circles. Together for the Gospel. YRR, all of the "gospel centered" taglines. It is the New reformed movement.
    CJ HEADS UP and started many of the conferences with other big names (you mentioned) that - like you pointed out, backed up Mahaney. Surprise, Surprise! The issue of Spiritual abuse extends far beyond SGM but God is using SGM to highlight many other celebrity preachers and very unaccountable/authoritarian leaders who are allowing members to be abused. The "protecting of the brotherhood" by these guys who share a conference stage is troubling. Our church has gone to other conferences related or headed up by some of these same people and while it is not fair to link them all together, the silence is so very loud and it is impossible not to ignore it. Standing up and speaking out against injustices and against spiritual abuse is a sign of health in a church. When people are being taught by popular blogs like Challies (informing the reformed) to look at this like it's all gossip- there is a much bigger problem with the movement as a whole. It is no surprise that there are survivor sites that are pretty big (not one or two isolated cases but many documented cases) with the top leadership admitting to the problems when forced to and simultaneously covering up or using spin. While others in the top leadership who try and speak out are being fired or resigning for other reformed churches like mark Driscolls, Mars Hill. The connections are eerie sometimes. I don't want to say it's about being reformed, but there needs to be some serious questioning going on that is just not happening in these circles. People are so afraid to look like they are gossiping or judging. "For what business of mine is it to judge outsiders? Is it not for you to judge those who are within the Church." 1 Corinthians 5:12
    Paul also wrote a letter calling out the church for not speaking out about perverse behavior in the members of the church. How much more important when this comes from the top leadership that is silent and covering up?

  23. In terms of red flags for spiritual abuse your list was the most helpful one I have read to date.
    Maybe I would add one more bullet point "being afraid to go to local authorities and only take things to church authorities because they are 'under God'"
    While the bible teaches that local governments should be submitted to and are there to protect us, not there for us to fear them. "They are God’s servants", "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong." and "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."
    People apply this to Pastors when this is a teaching about government. These are all direct quotes from the bible in Romans 13 about local civil government yet people in spiritually abusive environments don't just have a fear of the outside world but of the outside authorities especially. They are so afraid that the government will take their kids away from them and that there are always these false claims destroying all kinds of innocent people. They view their church leadership in the way this passage teaches us to view civil authorities while being fearful to trust their actual government. I understand in countries where free speech does not exist and people cannot even read a blog like this if it is questioning of their government, but in free countries where churches teach fear against the local authorities it is another big red flag.
    We need to be more skeptical of the inside not the outside. Judge those inside. The bereans were keeping an eye out on the teachings in the church and the leadership of the church not on what the outside world was doing.
    If we do not feel the freedom to do this we have a big problem.
    Thank you for this entire post. Is it okay to quote your bullet list of red flags? (If pointing a link to your article?)
    I really think this speaks to such a larger problem in protestant churches right now.
    But your article has truly been the most enlightening one I have read to date. Such a nice balance of grace and wisdom. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Gail, I'm sorry I didn't see your comment -- and now it's a year later! Yes, you can quote! (But it's probably too late, or maybe you did already?) :-)